Autistic Role Models and Mentoring

In addiction recovery, specifically in 12-step programs, mentoring (they use the word sponsorship, but it’s the same thing) is a key component to staying clean.  Within the “civilian” population, as addicts refer to those who are not addicts, most people who have achieved any degree of financial success, climbed the corporate ladder and found even a modicum of happiness in their chosen careers will cite at least one person in their life who served in the role of mentor.  Mentors (a good one) can open doors, provide insights, gently propel you down the right path when you’ve gone astray.   Good mentors mentor because they understand the joy of giving, of being generous to those just starting out, of helping another who may be struggling, of reaching out a hand in support to someone less fortunate and expect nothing in return.  They understand the joy of giving is how they also receive.  The founders of AA understood that no one understands another alcoholic as well as an alcoholic and to stay sober, one must “be of service.”

On a personal note (and this blog seems to have fallen off the precipice of vague, broad sweeping generalities and is now firmly rooted in personal, blatant, unabashed honesty) I became intimately familiar with mentoring when I most needed one.  I was in my thirties, I was searching for a way out of the hole I’d dug myself (click ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ for more on that) and I was told, “find someone who has what you want and ask them to sponsor you.”   It was also advised that I find a female to avoid any “conflict.”  So I promptly approached a man in his 60’s, who worked a blue collar job.  A big, craggy guy with more than two decades of sobriety under his belt and almost as many from an eating disorder.  He had “lost the desire to eat compulsively” and since that was akin to finding the holy grail, as far as I was concerned, he fit the criteria for “having what I wanted.”  When I asked him, he looked a bit taken aback, but graciously accepted and so began one of the most important relationships I had in those early years as I struggled to emerge from my various addictions and find my way in the world.  That man helped me.  He had no degree or training, by the world’s standards of “success” he certainly fell short, but he had a lifetime of personal experience to impart.  He was as unlike me as one human being could be from another, except for one – he knew what it was to struggle with an addiction and come out the other side.  He was kind, compassionate, patient and generous, and with his guidance I felt the joy of connecting with another human being who knew intimately what I was going through, while trusting that if I followed his lead, I had a chance of coming out the other side.  I have since had the privilege of mentoring a great many others over the years.

We all need mentors.  (It is equally crucial we also become mentors.)  People we can turn to who have been where we currently find ourselves.  People who can guide us, whether it’s in our relationships, our careers or just in living life more fully.  Mentorship can mean a great many things to different people, but finding someone who “has what you want” is a pretty good starting point.  Which brings me to autism and my dream for my daughter, Emma.  I would love to think she might find a few Autistic adults to mentor her.  Autistic adults who might help her as she grows older, who want to take her under their wing and be a presence in her life.  An adult who is not her parent.  Come to think of it, I want this for both my children.  I don’t know how to orchestrate that.  But it’s something I think about a great deal.

Yesterday’s post, Wretches and Jabberers – Defying Labels was inspired by some wonderful comments from the day before.  One commenter, (Lauri who very generously agreed to let me share one of the video clips she sent me, you can see the others ‘here‘ ) told me about her son, H. whose life was transformed when he met his idols, Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher (the stars of Wretches and Jabberers.)  She described how they spent a long evening communicating with one another.  She wrote how Larry and Tracy “have continued to nurture, support and mentor H in ways that are really magical.” Lauri wrote – “Here is a video Henry and I made last summer, it shows the magical ( I know that may sound trite, but it really was/is magical) connection he has with his mentors and friends Tracy and Larry.”

For my daughter I want an Autistic Adult with whom she might form a meaningful relationship with.  Ultimately Emma must choose such people for herself, I can only offer situations that might encourage this.  What they do or don’t do for a living is not something I care about.  I am much more interested in who they are as human beings.  The people I am drawn to have a couple of things in common.  Each of them has struggled, experienced hardship, worked through fear, taken risks, and maintained a sense of humor.  That’s the criteria for any mentor I am interested in, however Emma’s criteria may be different.  To all who have served as mentors and role models in my life and there are many, I am deeply grateful to each and every one of you.

One such role model, Amy Sequenzia, (I have written about Amy before, a non-speaking Autistic adult, self advocate, poet and writes often at Ollibean) has agreed to an interview with me.  I know many of you may have questions for her and she has agreed to answer as many as she can.  So if you want to ask Amy something, please list your questions in the comments section of this post and I’ll make sure she receives them.  Thank you Amy for agreeing to do this!

Emma – 2008


18 responses to “Autistic Role Models and Mentoring

  1. Great post. How unusual. Oops, forgot. You have a difficult time with sarcasm. Mentoring is an absolutely key ingredient to success in life, in my mentored opinion. I’m constantly amazed at how little value our society seems to place on this. 10,000 years ago, extremely hairy men (and women?) were already leading their youngsters through elaborate rites of passage in order to claim full participation in their tribe. Now we have FaceBook. The good news? Facebook and twitter and all this social blah, dee blah, blah, can spread the word and serve as a matrix for connecting people in mentoring programs like this. I bought the world’s greatest non-profit url with this in mind, but have had neither the time or resources to fulfill this vision. It’s called TeamUp.or. I do have a spiffy logo though! Interested parties are welcome.

    I hope this post does lead to Emma finding an adult autistic mentor. I think it would be so great for her.

    Well, I’m off to an AA meeting to celebrate 25 years of sobriety. My sponsor Ariane can’t make it, but when they ask at the break for anyone who is willing to be sponsor, I will be raising my hand — if someone “wants what I have” — though that is doubtful, given that it’s contagious.

    • Yes, because now that I’ve been told I am “clearly” (at the very least) an Autism phenotype, I automatically lose my ability to appreciate sarcasm, irony and my personal favorite, Theory Of Mind. Which kind of makes sense because who knew all you NTs could read minds to begin with, though you seem to get that wrong a lot of the time. It must be like being a meteorologist, close guess is good enough…
      Someone came to me once and told me her sponsee had a crush on her boyfriend. She said, “I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s what they meant when they said “find someone who has what you want.”

  2. Ariane – I’d ask you to be my mentor, but I don’t think you’d want to take on the mess that is me.

    • Angie, if you are serious, then consider me your mentor! The only codicil to this is – one of the things I have learned, both as a mentor and as a mentee (not sure that word exists, but you know what I mean) is that one must be open to suggestions. One must do the work. One must be willing to at least try what the mentor suggests. So, again, if you’re serious, I want you to rent Wretches and Jabberers, this weekend and watch it. And I want you to read this from Amy Sequenzia –
      After you read that, think about what you would ask Amy and then write me back with your questions. I will be interviewing her next week.
      Then go look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud some version of – “I love you. This is not your fault. You have done nothing wrong.” And then repeat that over and over again.
      Once you’ve done all of that go to Julia Bascom’s blog – Just Stimming – and begin reading every single post she’s written. (I am in the process of reading all her posts again, some of them for the third and fourth time.) Julia does not sugar coat what it is to be Autistic.
      And then go back to that mirror and repeat those words again. And then and only then you can tell me to f*ck off. 😀

      • Well, I don’t wanna tell you to f*uck off, so I guess we’re on. Lol.

        I actually already read Amy’s post awhile back. My question for her would be simple – how can I better communicate with my daughter? I have also read a few posts on Julia’s blog, (see, I’ve not ignored the links you’ve provided in the past!) but do fully intend to read every last one.

        As for Wretches and Jabberers, that might be out if it’s only through Netflix – we don’t have a Netflix account, nor money to set one up. But other than that, I’ll even do the mirror thing!

        It’s not just the autism stuff I need help with. When I say I’m a mess, I truly mean it. We don’t need to get into all that now, though. You’ve given me enough homework for the weekend! 😉

        • First – big hug.
          Second – relinked Wretches and Jabberers on the post to the official site. It’s evidently available on iTunes and a bunch of other places, but I didn’t have time to investigate. I think iTunes rents it for 4 dollars. But check. You HAVE to watch it, Angie. Also go to the links Lauri sent either on yesterday’s post or the day before and check out the Q & A. You’ll see both Larry and Tracy with their facilitators typing answers to questions from the audience. As Lauri says the lighting is bad, but some of the Q&A is brilliant!

          • I will do my best to watch it, i promise. And thank you for taking the time out to help someone like me. I have a long journey ahead of me, in many ways. You seem like just the chick i need to give me a good drop kick,…lovingly.of course……lol

  3. On another note, have you seen this article?
    I had a flu shot during pregnancy, I believe. And I had a wicked sinus infection the second trimester I had to be put on antibiotics for.
    They scheduled Risa’s MRI and genetic testing for October 5th. Maybe we’ll find some answers then?

  4. Had tried to respond earlier but a mentoree interrupted. Now where was I? Yes!

  5. I could not agree with you more. As I look back on my life I realize how much a mentor would have helped me. The apinful middle school years were agonizing and my poor mother had no idea how to help. A mentor would have spared me ugly lessons and given me healthy esteem.

    Wanting such an adult for your daughter is exceptionally wise. Sometimes young ears are fresher for a voice outside the family.

    Kudos to you!

    • Aww.. thank you Lori.
      Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could spare ALL our children such pain by providing them with self elected mentors? Everyone would benefit and our children would then be groomed to become mentors themselves, which would give them tremendous self esteem and a sense of purpose.

  6. Your posts always make me think in new ways. Thanks for that! This is powerful stuff…

  7. Pingback: Performer, Singer, Mother, Wife, Friend & Autistic – An Interview With Chou Chou | Emma's Hope Book

  8. Pingback: Those Who Influence.. | Emma's Hope Book

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